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Chameleons as Pets

Choosing a Chameleon as a Pet

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Veiled Chameleon

Veiled Chameleon

Lianne McLeod
Chameleons are amazing creatures, but sometimes are not the best choice as pets. They are not for the beginner and their requirements are quite specific, and they are easily stressed. They do not like to be handled so pass this reptile by if you want to be able to handle your reptile. This week we'll have a look at the basics of chameleons and their care.

True (also known as old world) chameleons are most well known for their ability to change color. Young chameleons are usually a dull gray/brown color and can change shades a bit, but at around 5 months of age the adult color and the ability to change colors develops and a range of colors including green, blue green, turquoise and black can be seen. Changing colors provides camouflage, temperature regulation and a means of communicating with other chameleons. Colors change in response to excitement, stress, temperature, lighting conditions, the presence of another chameleon, and other influences. Generally, a dark brown to black chameleon is stressed, with the brighter colors reflecting a happier mood. Also, different colors can be seen due to color mutations and other color phases.

Other features that make chameleons unique include their tongue, which is used to catch prey. The tongue can be up to 1.5 times the length of the body, allowing chameleons to effectively catch insects from a distance. They live in trees, and their feet have three toes pointing one way and two the other, giving them a good grip. Many species also have a prehensile tail, meaning it is also used to grip branches. They have globular eyes which rotate like turrets and move independently, allowing a chameleon to scan a wide radius around them for both hunting and protection. They are largely insectivorous, although some species eat some vegetation and some small invertebrates such as slugs.

When selecting a chameleon, it is without question best to find a captive bred one. Wild caught specimens are usually extremely stressed, carry a heavy parasite load, and difficult to acclimate to captive conditions. Chameleons are not the hardiest nor easiest reptile to keep and starting with a stressed pet will only make matters worse. In addition, the capture and shipping of chameleons (which fortunately is being more tightly regulated) results in the death of many animals due to stress, dehydration or starvation - many more die in transit than make it to the pet store. (The same can be said for many exotic pet species.) Observe the chameleon - it should be bright and active, able to change colors, and have a well fleshed body. Some experienced chameleon keepers recommend a male, especially for the beginner, as their nutritional needs are somewhat simpler and they seem a little more hardy. Being territorial and solitary animals, chameleons should be kept singly. In any case, two males should never be kept together as they will be very aggressive with each other.

There are several species kept as pets, the most common being the veiled, Jackson's, and panther chameleons. Veiled chameleons are large (up to 2 feet long) and need a suitably large enclosure, but are fairly hardy. Jackson's chameleons are smaller (need less space), and the males look like little triceratops with three horns on the head, but they are not as hardy. Panther chameleons are also quite large (males are much larger than females), and exhibit some striking colors.

Next: Care of Chameleons

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